College debate — Rohingya crisis
Understanding both sides of the unfolding Rohingya crisis ..
Topic of debate .. Should Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi be punished for forcibly evicting the Rohingyas from inside the country?
For the motion ..Why Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government need to be brought to book.
The picture, so far …. Rohingyas are a Muslim minority of 1.2 million in a Buddhist-majority country of 52 million. They live in the Rahine province. Historical records suggest that they are the descendants of Muslim traders with roots in Bangladesh. However, it is a fact that they have been living in Rahine province for generations. Bereft of any modern political leader, this ethnic minority has suffered the scourge of illiteracy, poverty, and every other ill that goes with it.
Myanmar’s military junta directly governed the country for decades, before ceding political power to the civilian government under Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015. She is virtually the head of the government there despite the fact that she is not the prime minister. The military, who still hold considerable sway over the government, ensured her disqualification for the prime ministerial job by incorporating a ‘foreign citizen’ clause in the country’s constitution. Aung San Suu Kyi was married to a British citizen, and that proved to be her undoing. However, she is undoubtedly the de facto head of Myanmar government. At the same time, it has to be conceded that the military still calls the shots and wouldn’t countenance any idea of fair and humane treatment to the Rohingyas.
In the year 1982, the military junta of Myanmar declared that the Rohingyas are not eligible for Burmese (now Myanmar) citizenship. Their Bengali mother tongue and Bangladeshi roots were cited as the reason. So, Rohingyas are now a stateless people whom neither Bangladesh accepts, nor Myanmar owns.
Lack of education, and resultant poverty have also robbed these hapless people of the capacity of forward social thinking. They have fallen prey to the temptation of taking recourse to violence for avenging any wrongdoing by the Myanmar military who virtually lord over the troubled Rahane province eclipsing the civilian government.
In an incident about a year ago, some militant groups from among the Rohingyas attacked police and military outposts killing 12 personnel. This incident triggered a massive crackdown by the military on the Rohingyas. Unable to stand the barbaric violence unleashed by the military against them, hundreds and thousands of the Rohingyas fled for their lives to adjoining Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Indonesia. A massive refugee crisis unfolded, as none of these countries were quite willing to accommodate the Rohingyas. Rumors of al- Queda indoctrination of some of the refugees added to the worry of the host countries. Things have gone steeply downhill since then.
Why the Myanmar government must be taken to task…
a. Forcing out thousands of civilians of a minority community at the point of a gun amounts to ‘ethnic cleansing’ – a term that the whole world hates to contend with. In the present case, nearly 8,00,000 Rohingyas have already fled their homes. More than 10,000 refugees pour into Bangladesh every single day. Bangladesh is a country with slender resources, and can ill afford to provide shelter to such massive inflow of distressed human beings.
b. The violence perpetrated by the Myanmar military against the Rohingyas is bone-chilling. Whole villages have been burned down, women raped, children killed in front of their mothers, and property looted. Hundreds of fleeing refugees have died through drowning in the perilous sea journeys. In the makeshift refugee camps, starvation and disease have led to scores of deaths.
What the international law says…
According to Article 11 of Geneva Convention, international rules,
“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
1. Killing members of the group;
2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Why is this reprisal by the Myanmar government so reprehensible…
Aung San Suu Kyi, herself, was the victim of human rights abuses in the hands of the military, she now has under her. They incarcerated her for long years, prevented her from leading the government after her victory in 1990, and didn’t let her meet her dying husband in the last hours of his life. Yet, she persevered in the path of legality, constitutionality, and decency to win the elections in 2015 to lead her nation. Her perseverance, and regard for non-violent ways were recognized by the whole world. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy at such enormous personal cost. For a person, so adored around the world, being instrumental in a very intolerant and violent approach towards the country’s minority community is a complete reversal of principles. This is why the whole world is so appalled to see the way she acquiesces, and even applauds the military’s systematic campaign of terror to rid the country of the Rohingyas.
Against the motion —The opposite view…..
Why the world should not prosecute the Myanmar government, and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi ….
The Rohingyas are not the citizens of Myanmar according to the country’s constitution. They are illegal Muslim Bengali traders who have proliferated over the years in the Rahine province, thanks to their actively choosing to have large families despite their impoverishment. This community has moved back and forth between Bangladesh and Myanmar for decades for their trade and family links. They are culturally more akin to Bangladeshis, than with the Myanmar Buddhist society. The Myanmar constitution duly denied them formal citizenship in 1982, superseding the Union Act of 1948. Nevertheless, the Myanmar government has been generous enough to allow many from among this ethnic group to stay in the country by virtue of their possessing permits issued by the UNHCR and other NGOs.
Secondly, propensity to challenge the government apparatus through insurgency has been the hallmark of the Rohingyas. Instead of seeking redress through non-violent constitutional means, these people have taken to guns to confront the military. No government could allow its authority to be challenged by a small group of illegally armed people.
Thirdly, Aung San Suu Kyi, despite the strident anti-Rohingya sentiments sweeping the country, has assured the international community that refugees with genuine UNHCR papers and proof of long residency in the country will be allowed to return to their homes. One must not lose sight of the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi is still not in full control over the country’s military, who could easily overthrow her government if they see things not going their way.
Lastly, the civil society groups in Myanmar are active in their efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The government listens to them carefully, too. Not everyone in Myanmar is up in arms against the Rohingyas. This apart, unlike the prevalent misconception, anti-Islamic sentiments are not at the roots of this crisis. Muslims live peacefully, and in sizeable numbers in other parts of the country. They are not under any threat.
Imposing sanctions against Myanmar would thus be imprudent and unwarranted. Instead, quiet persuasive diplomacy with sizeable international aid to rehabilitate the displaced Rohingyas would serve the purpose better. After all, Myanmar is a young democracy that has just emerged out of long years of darkness under the military rule. It needs cooperation, much more than coercion to mend its ways.